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Show Them the Light or Show Them the Door

By Dave Druzynski, VP People and Culture, DealerSocket

As published in the September/October issue of Dealer Magazine.

Most managers don’t want to fire their employees, but there comes a time in the employment relationship when it’s the best option for the business and for your remaining team members. So, how do you know when it’s time to fire an employee? Consider these two common termination reasons. The first is poor job performance and the second is because of soft skills (or lack thereof). A person is either not meeting performance expectations for his or her job, or wreaking havoc on your organization. Let’s review both scenarios.

Job Performance

It’s important to analyze poor job performance in context. When a new hire doesn’t perform to expectation, is it because the individual misrepresented his or her talents or skill level, or because your dealership isn’t supporting the employee with the tools, coaching, and training needed to perform? Perhaps your onboarding program did not set them up to be successful. Try sitting down with this person and ask what you can do to help them succeed.

If you can honestly say you’ve given an employee everything needed to succeed, but he or she is just not capable of doing the job, and there are no open jobs in your dealership that are a better fit, here’s my advice: Let the employee go as soon as possible. Cut your losses and do a better job next time of vetting skills during the interview process. Many dealers make the mistake of delaying the inevitable by giving new employees much more time than they should. The employee ends up sucking time away from your productive employees and the entire dealership suffers.

Some employees are what I like to call “retired in place.” These are the people who consistently do the bare minimum to get by, and not one ounce more. In dealerships, this might be your six- or seven-car-a-month guy or gal. They wait for ups, don’t follow up or generate any new leads, or they’ve been working there for so long they rely mostly on referrals and repeat business. You would treat this situation differently than an underperformer who works late and is honestly trying his or her best.

As a dealer, you might think, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” Meaning, a six- or seven-car guy or gal is better than having to find and hire someone new, who might only end up averaging four or five cars. But this is not the best approach. You need to make your expectations crystal clear, and they need to be more than just saying, “I want you to sell 15 cars a month.” You have to provide the tools to succeed. Some “old-school” employees who were trained on traditional processes may be having trouble adapting to the new digital environment. These employees can be saved with intensive training and coaching. But, they have to buy in to the new process. If they’re not willing to learn or do more than the bare minimum, it may be time to separate.

What about a sudden change in performance from a long-time employee? If an employee who has consistently performed is struggling, don’t give up on him or her right away. Perhaps the associate is dealing with personal problems at home or has taken on a new role and feels overwhelmed. Take time to sit down and understand the reason for the change in performance. Sometimes, all it takes is showing employees that you care and that you’re invested in sparking a turnaround. Plus, if you stick with an employee through a troubled time and they turn it around and become a high performer again, they will never forget what you did for them.

Soft Skills

What about employees who perform well, but leave a big wake in their path with unwanted ripple effects? These could be downright toxic employees who have bad attitudes or have a finesse for upsetting co-workers.

This is why it’s so important for your dealership to have and live by a set of core values. Core values are much more than just words on the wall; these are values that drive everyone’s behavior in the organization and serve as the foundation for your dealership’s culture. When people don’t adhere to your core values, you must get them to buy into your values and exemplify them, or terminate the relationship if they refuse to buy in. If you don’t, those core values don’t mean a thing. Your other employees will see it, and your customers will see it, and ultimately it will hurt your brand’s reputation.

Firing someone for violating core values can be difficult, especially if the person is a star performer. Let’s say you have a core value of “honesty.” You also have a 25-car-a-month salesperson who consistently lies to customers and co-workers and undercuts team members for their own gain. If your culture is important to you, you must turn them around, or let them go, even if it’s painful.

What about employees with attitudes so bad they are literally toxic? One thing you can be sure of is that misery loves company, and one toxic employee can actively recruit dozens of people to his or her cause. This ripple effect can have long-term, negative effects on your organization.

When you notice bad behavior, the key is to nip it in the bud as soon as possible. The longer a toxic attitude is present, the more damage it causes. Approach the person in a nonconfrontational way. “Hey Bill, I really appreciate everything you do for us, but I notice you’ve been acting different lately. I just want to know if there’s anything I can help you out with.” Explain why it’s important that every employee adheres to your core values.

Sometimes employees have a bad attitude for a legitimate reason, but they’re afraid to have a difficult conversation. As a manager, your job is to have that difficult conversation. If the employee doesn’t want to discuss a problem with a manager, there should always be someone else they can go to without fear of reprisal.

Other times, the employees just have bad attitudes and love to drain the positive energy out of your dealership. If an employee’s soft skills don’t improve after a couple of attempts, which should include steps in your progressive disciplinary policy, my advice is to fire the individual sooner rather than later. In my experience, it’s more difficult to turn soft skills around than it is to improve performance skills. At some point, the pain these people cause outweighs the profits they produce, because they’re upsetting other individuals and preventing them from performing their jobs effectively. Even worse, your productive employees may be growing resentful over the fact that you have chosen to keep the toxic individual as long as you have. Odds are, they will be celebrating when the toxic employee finally leaves.

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